Accessible email: Mozilla Thunderbird with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10

UPGRADE/UPDATE NOTE: This post refers to version 2. See my post on Thunderbird 3.

You may have noticed that, thanks to Google’s new “improved” code, the buttons in the Standard Gmail interface are now completely buggered, which is to say you can’t speak them. You can tell Dragon to press some of the keyboard shortcuts, but not all. For a while I used Gmail in basic HTML view, which meant that I could at least access the buttons, but I couldn’t use any “mailto” links or even empty out my trash folder.

Now, if you have Vocola, you can make voice commands out of Gmail’s Standard keyboard shortcuts, especially if you use the Google Labs custom keyboard shortcut option. I have Vocola, but I didn’t feel like creating voice commands for this. I like to see how I can work with existing things before I do any adding or tinkering. So, on a hunch, I decided to download Mozilla Thunderbird 2. Dragon contains basic commands for this, such as to compose or select a message, and it gets better. With a bit of customizing, Thunderbird gave me an e-mail interface that was as vocally accessible as HTML view in Gmail, but that offered the full functionality of Standard view. (Even the dialog boxes in Thunderbird are accessible.) All you have to do is add your Gmail address and password to Thunderbird’s settings, and you’re good. Just follow the prompts.

Vocal access to Thunderbird is provided by all of the menus and toolbar buttons, which are structured in exactly the same way as they are in Firefox. That is, you can right-click the toolbar and say “customize,” and from there drag-and-drop any buttons you want. You also have the option of text and icons, text only, or icons only. To get the most functionality out of Thunderbird, you’ll probably want to download the Custom Buttons add-on for Thunderbird, because it will give you many more voice shortcuts than what the program comes with. After arranging the default buttons and choosing additional ones from the add-on, I can access the following things by voice:

Get Inbox (add-on)
Address Book
Reply all

Skip Trash (add-on, allows you to delete a message without sending it to the Trash folder)

Read (add-on, allows you to read a highlighted message without saying “press Enter”)

Detach Attachments (add-on)

There’s also a button for emptying your trash, but I didn’t download that one because I don’t need to very often and you can also get there by saying “File,” then “Empty trash.” There are also a lot more buttons that come with Thunderbird itself, but I don’t use them. You’ll just have to take your pick. There are also buttons for your address book, all vocally accessible too. I won’t reproduce them all here. Also, chat around the View menu and see which layout is most convenient for you.

To read a message, you can go through the list by saying “Next/Previous Message”, then saying “press Enter” or (if you have the button) “Read.” To switch between the side folders and your inbox, all you have to do is say “Tab” and an arrow key to get to the folders, and if you have the Get Inbox button, just speak it to get back to your inbox.

ADDED: It’s easier just to download Quick Folders.  Quick Folders adds a new toolbar, to which you add folders from your sidebar (or create new ones). Using the mouse commands, drag the folders from the sidebar into the new toolbar. For filling new folders, drag messages from your inbox or wherever to the folder on the toolbar. Or, you can highlight the message and say “Message,” “Move,” “Recent,” then your folder. (You can also, of course, create a Vocola shortcut.) Now, you should be able to speak the folder tabs — for example “1 Sent,” “2 Drafts,” etc., and get instant access. Now you can even hide the sidebar.

To make Thunderbird work with the “mailto” option, you can do several things. If you’re using Firefox 3, you can go to Tools — Options — Applications, and check for Thunderbird under the “mailto” drop-down. If it’s not there, browse for it. You’ll end up with the file path, then Thunderbird.exe.

Alternately, you can go to Control Panel — Internet Options — Programs, and choose Mozilla Thunderbird under “e-mail”. Regardless of which way you do it, if you have Firefox, enter about:config into the address bar and make sure the following Booleans are set to true by searching for and double-clicking them:


If you don’t have the string then you can add it. Just copy and paste it from here. Then, go into about:config and right-click somewhere. Then choose “new string.” Paste the string. After you create the string, it will prompt you for Thunderbird’s location. In Windows XP, this is C:\Program Files\Mozilla Thunderbird\thunderbird.exe.

It’s possible you might not have to do all this to get it to work — in my case, it was just that a couple of values had been false. It’s still a good idea to check about:config just in case.

All in all, I like Thunderbird much better than the Internet-based Gmail. The interface is cleaner, and I didn’t have to write any new commands. I’m a minimalist, so I just have the boring gray background, but if you want something more lively Thunderbird has several themes for you to choose from on the add-on site.

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5 Responses to Accessible email: Mozilla Thunderbird with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10

  1. Farnoosh says:

    I started using Dragon just last night, in fact I am typing this is using it. I have noticed it does so much better with Outlook than Gmail, and I love the Gmail interface. I used to use Thunderbird. I will keep trying to train for the HTML interface but from what you’re saying it seems that it’s best to move to Thunderbird. The problem is I have so much and it will eat up my entire hard drive space. thank you for your post.

  2. hand2mouth says:

    You’re welcome.
    If you really have a lot on your hard drive that you can’t get rid of, maybe the Portable Apps version of Thunderbird would work for you until you could find more space, if you wanted to start using it again. It’s a thought, anyway.

  3. Sage says:

    All your problems will go away as soon as you shell out for an External Hard drive. Get something in the 1TB range and you should be able to get that shipped to your door for under $200.

  4. William Jennett says:

    My 3 year old told me, he want to see that dragon that look like his toy dragon.

  5. hand2mouth says:

    🙂 That’s cute 🙂

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